Romance ... That word summons a kind of soft, sighing sound to our hearts, doesn't it (or depending on what audience you are, it makes us want to puke), but heart-sighing (and puking) aside, it can't be argued that a little romance has the power to draw in the reader and, on top of that, make audiences care about the characters more.
I had a bit of a conundrum about this recently, however ...
Some amazing things went down during this year's WriteOnCon. I received some excellent feedback, some most curious, concerning the portions of Woven and The Undead Road I shared. Some said Woven was juvenile or MG. Others said The Undead Road was YA. In truth, both books are the complete opposite of what others said they sounded like. This lead me to question: what drew this about?
Apparently, I may or may not have been following "the rules."
See, for Undead Road, I have a character mention a girl he likes, (who became a zombie), but because I had him use words like "crush," "gorgeous," and "heartthrob," it somehow made the character sound older than he really was (he's 14, albeit precocious when it comes to girls). Similarly, in Woven, two guys wrestle. I don't mention their ages until later, but because they're being watched by "boys," this somehow came across as MG-ish. How could I have botched this?
At another conference, this question was asked: "What's the key difference between MG and YA?" An agent answered, "The difference is maturity and romance. MG shouldn't venture beyond puppy-love and YA can get to second base (and if done right, beyond that)."
So, based on the content of these two stories (no spoilers, sorry), by definition, Woven and Undead are in their respective markets. What about the contrary feedback? Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the feedback and made some changes based on it, but then, I was still confused. Is there some parameter I'm not following? Am I supposed to label an entire story into a market based on a first page? Am I not allowed to express any inclination of romance in a MG novel?
Take these fine shows for example - the characters are MG age:
Super 8 ...
Adventure Time ...
Avatar: The Last Airbender ...
And how about this MG/YA mash-up?
(These are the kind of stories I write for young readers, btw...)
As you can see, some romance can enhance any story, regardless of its market. It just has to be done right/well. YA doesn't have to jump into describing someone you like right away, either. There's no right or wrong answer here, guys. We're writers. We're allowed to think outside the box. That's where the better stories come from, I think. When it comes to romance (or puppy love), it's about timing and how many tiers we go. And if there is to be romance in MG, there better be something to keep them from going to the next level (until they become YA age later - cause that would be way awkward, dude).
I was a kid once. And a teenager. I once had a crush on a girl since I was five, all the way through high school (which intensified each year - dumb hormones), so for me, varying levels of romance is plausible in any age. If a 13 year-old character never once shows interest in someone, anyone, in a like-like fashion, or never admits someone is kinda cute, how am I to believe this kid has a soul? I could be in the minority here, but like any element of writing, I can't be confined. I must explore. I have to see where this story can go, even if that means having to romance outside the box. Yes - it can be done!
This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. It's not about needing to know what market a story is in after reading the first page. It's about that first page being good, that the story is told well, that it works. If it doesn't, we can fix that. There are way too many conflicting opinions and rules on how things should be that it's easy to forget what something is for what it is, and maybe it's okay for it to be something that we wouldn't impliment in our own writing.
One baker's cookie cutter may not cut it for another baker's batch.
(Say that five times fast ... )
What's your take on this topic? Do you read for market or story? Do you romance outside the box or move within the expected?
I'm David, and stay away from tier 15!